The sun was barely rising, the sky mottled with red when the gunshots went off, startling me from my slumber. Rolling out of bed, I mechanically donned an oversized T-shirt and a pair of panties, then made my way toward the sound.
The morning was cool, wrapping around my bare legs and raising gooseflesh as I walked slowly down the hall, my toes curling into the plush carpet with each dreaded footfall. The pale light of dawn crispened the lines of the walls and doors as I passed them, making the shadows sharp and jagged. My shirt whispered around me, repeating over and over, "Wolvie's gone. Wolvie's gone." I blinked away a tear, pushing the words aside.
It was Ororo's desperate sobs that first reached me as I slowly approached Piotr's room. Turning the corner, I found a small crowd gathered in front of the door, staring in stunned silence. I pushed through them and the scene lay before me like some sick horror flick.
Storm sat, wailing on the floor, her white chiffon night gown stained forever red as she held the remnants of Piotr's head in her lap, rocking him back and forth, distraught cries escaping her twisted lips as she stroked his hair. One side of his face was handsome as ever, save the small entry wound in his temple and the trickle of crimson-black that flowed down his jawbone, wrapping around his neck in a serpantile coil. The other side of his face, however... Brain matter gleamed, exposed, flecked with white splinters of skull, and I thought I could identify the curve of the back of his eyeball as I stared blankly down at him.
I lifted my head, and my eyes met Jono's, and I knew he could feel it, too. The definite empathic mark he had managed to impress forever into the soft soil of the Astral Planes. Three whispered words. "Katya.. Do svidanyia." A photograph. There, I could spot it a meter away, half hidden by the dresser. And a grief so strong that it was able to pass from his state of existence into one he had never set foot upon, to be felt by all with but a smattering of psychic ability.
Shoving a chocolate-colored braid behind her ear, Dr. Reyes knelt beside Storm, gently tugging her away from the corpse and helping her to her feet. *Seven.* The thought was so strong, even I, a psi for barely two years and still just a step along in my training, was able to hear it. Jono and I exchanged another glance, then I turned to follow Cel to the MedLab.
* * * * *
Seven left. Six, if you didn't count Sarah. She was technically still part of the team, but seeing as though she had only been residing off and on at the mansion for the past year, it would be fair to disclude her. Currently, she was with her band, Sweet Torture, in Japan, doing a six-week promotional for her first hit album, 'Kiss the Cobra.'
The Professor, all-powerful leader, who spent his days locked in his office, meditating on things he couldn't possibly change. And the day of my arrival, I was informed by some entity, faceless in the musty closets of my memory, that he was also infected with Legacy B.
Dr. Reyes, doctor extraordinaire, who was always either bent over a telescope, trying futilely to find a cure for the incurable, or trying in vain to make the dying comfortable.
Storm, who had lost both Wolverine, her best friend, and Kitty, her surrogate daughter, in a matter of days, and was now less fit for battle than she had been when she was eight.
Jono, whose temper was so volatile that he couldn't be trusted with not murdering his fellow teammate, let alone given a complex assignment with the faith that he'd carry it out without disregarding orders and playing off his emotional instability.
And then there was Sam and I. Probably the most grounded members of the team, and the most inexperienced.
The once world-famous X-Men were down for the count.
* * * * *
It was a little more than a week later that Sarah came home, unexpected and around five weeks early. I kind of thought she'd come up in this huge white limo, with mobs screaming after her, and we'd have to force the gates shut against them, but it didn't happen that way.
It was raining when the taxi pulled up into the drive this afternoon. From the living room, I watched as she solemnly crawled out of the cab and used the last of her funds to pay the driver. Her face and bone protrusions were still painted in grotesque shades of red, black and green, but the rain was doing its best to melt it off as she slowly climbed the stairs. met her at the door.
Our eyes met and she brushed past me, sinking resignedly into the couch.
"What happened?" I asked, holding my position in the open doorway.
"Nothing," she snapped, her voice more gravely than I remembered. Probably from all that singing. "I got sick of Japan, okay? Reminded me too much of *you*."
I fell silent, letting the comment slide by. Like Sammy said, and I so foolishly proved, there are better things to live for than hate.
"When'd they let *you* move in?" she spat viciously.
"Couple a weeks ago."
I told her.
She sneered. "What happened to your old one, sun-lover?"
I looked away, swallowing the lump that had inexplicably formed in my throat. I'd been able to push aside thoughts of him for the past week and a half; I wasn't going to let them affect me now, especially with her there to see my tears. I didn't want her to know that without him, my world was nothing. I didn't want anyone to know how deeply I cared for him, not even myself. Especially not myself.
Turning away, I bounded up the stairs to my room, leaving the dripping, grease-streaked former Morlock speechless for once.
* * * * *
For three weeks, I was able to stray my thoughts from what had occurred between Wolverine and I the night before he had departed. It wasn't that I regretted it, but rather that, if I thought of it, it made letting him go infinitely harder. I know in the movies, you're supposed to always pray that the heroine and the hero make love before they part forever, so they'll always have that one night to cherish, but no one ever tells of the other side of it.
That night, as the moonlight bathed my room in satiny silver, I gave Logan my heart, my soul, my body. We became deeply intertwined; we became one. And then...
And then he left. It was like having my still-beating heart ripped violently in half, and asking the remaining half to still function normally. If I pretended the other half was never there, it made it seem easier. So for three weeks, I lived in a self-created delusion. Until one day, reality raised it ugly head and my fantasy was shattered into a million bleeding pieces.
I remember awakening that morning to golden sunlight streaming through my window in torrents, catching tiny dust motes, which in turn prismed the light, flashing a rainbow of colors. On the ceiling, the lake painted a square of watery reflection lines. Blue skies and bird songs promised a perfect day.
Huddled beneath my covers, I stared at my calendar, not wanting to see what it silently accused me of. Maybe if I didn't look, it'd go away. I closed my eyes, then opened them again. Still the same.
The twenty-eighth. I'd completely missed my period. I'd never even been late before, let alone missed it altogether.
Rolling onto my back, I held my stomach, where, I knew, a tiny life was growing rapidly inside of me. He was probably still microscopic, but maybe he'd have a distinctive head and body. I didn't know. But what I *did* know was that he was one-half me, and one-half Logan.
I wondered what it would be like to hold Logan's baby in my arms. Would he be the mirror of his father? Would Logan's eyes gaze back up at me from his tiny head, wonder and awe for me reflected perfectly in their deep blue depths?
And what of when he grew? Would his temper flare easily at the drop of a hat, and be calmed by a soothing word from his mother's lips? When he smiled, would I have to turn away to hide my tears, seeing there the man I desperately loved, but could never again have? Would his voice be low and gruff, sensuous as it rolled up my spine like loving, exploring fingers?
With each new thought, fresh tears formed, and a warm lump of emotion welled up in my throat. But none was so successful at breaking me to sobs as this
*What if he is nothing like Logan?*
* * * * *
It was nearly noon before I finally forced myself out of bed and out to face the world. The whole house seemed different as I looked at it in wonder for my child. Each inch of carpet was an inch on which his tiny foot would tread; perhaps even take his first step. The walls became vast murals of colorful crayon art, or fortresses of coolness to a chubby cheek pressed contentedly against them on a hot summer's day. There were rooms upon rooms in which to play hide-and-seek. Pictures of people to know intimately, yet never know at all. A lifetime of memories yet to be created.
A small smile crept onto my mouth as I trailed my fingers along the soft wood of the banister, slowly descending the stairs, placing both feet on each step before continuing onto the next, as a babe, just learning to walk, would. It was at the bottom of those stairs that reality struck, as material as if it were a fist in the face.
Fornication. That was the word Jono would use to convict me in the eyes of Samuel as he sentenced me to my demise. No, he'd act first, make excuses later. "She slept with your best friend, chap. Three days after you proposed. She deserved what I gave her." Even if I were to break up with Sam, Jono'd still find it an offense, irrevocable and worthy of severe punishment. And certainly when my pregnancy was learned of, his lunacy would be unleashed upon me, no matter what I did.
Of course I was stronger than he. Better trained. I'd been drilled until I'd collapsed; tested to the brink of my skills. All because people--namely, Mrs. Frost-Cassidy and Logan--had believed in me too much to let me become a failure. They'd seen the potential I held, and they weren't about to let me perish because of something they could have done for me. I could defeat Jono, if it came down to it.
But then came the argument that it wasn't just my life at stake. One too-slow reaction, and I could miscarry. There was no going back on that. Logan was gone; this was my only chance to bear his child.
Pausing on the bottom step, I felt reality wash over me like salt over a slug, slowly eating away at me until I knew my only option. I knew what I had to do. Turning, I bolted back up the stairs and to my room.
* * * * *
Ten minutes later, I burst into the living room, searching frantically for the Kentucky blonde.
A concerned expression on his face, Sam came out of the kitchen, an apron covering his outfit. "What's wrong, love?" he asked, taking me by the waist and guiding me over to the couch. "You okay?"
I nodded, swallowing my fear and managing a small reassuring smile. "I'm all right, Sammy," I whispered. "Marry me." I changed my mind, just as you said I would. I was a fool to not accept in the first place. I realized just how much time we were wasting by not getting married right away. These sentences--excuses--rang in my head, but didn't need to be spoken. I don't think he even wanted to hear them, only the six words I gave him.
He beamed, relief dawning on him like the first day of spring. Suddenly, he was full of life and renewed. Everything in him that could have been considered dead a moment before was rejuvenated, and before me sat the Samuel Guthrie I thought I might have been able to fall in love with so long ago. "When?"
"I... Today. Right now. As soon as possible. I-I can't wait another second to become Mrs. Samuel Guthrie."
Grinning foolishly, he kissed me softly, breathing, "Ah knew you'd come around."
* * * * *
The velvet beneath my fingers was crushed and worn; rubbed raw in some places. Cigarettes had been extinguished there, and someone, long ago, had deposited their gum and let it dry into a solid, sticky mass beside them as they sat in that seat.
Staring blankly out the window, I watched as landscape slid by, bright and clear under the hot afternoon sun. It was a drive I'd made a million times or more; from Salem Center to New York City forty miles away, in the back seat of some beat-up taxi that reeked of nicotine. But never had I felt so nervous to get there. Huge butterflies flew madly around in my stomach, and my throat was constricted so badly, I could hardly swallow.
Beside me, Sammy squeezed my hand, and I cast a wan smile in his direction. "What's wrong?" he murmured, leaning in so closely, I could smell the scent of peppermint on his breath.
"I Just anxious, I guess." Silently, I screamed for the cabby to hurry up, so I could get this done and over with, and--just barely--I felt the taxi pick up speed. He must've been receptive of telepathic messages. My 'ability' isn't a very powerful one, and it's rare I can communicate with a non-telepath. Or it could all have been a coincidence, I don't know.
"You look real pretty, Jubilee." It was about the hundredth time he'd said so in the past half-hour, and it was starting to get on my nerves. Usually, I'd be extremely flattered, but I felt he was only saying it because I was dressed simply and modestly for once. No bright colors, no daisy dukes or short skirts, no outrageous fashions. Just a plain white sun-dress that fell just past my knees. I felt naked. People should have to shade their eyes when they look at me. Have to shout over my clothes. And if they couldn't smile warmly and tell me I looked beautiful when I wore my usual attire, I didn't want to hear it. Not that Sam had never said I looked pretty before, it's just... Never with such enthusiasm or redundancy.
Drawing a shaky breath, I replied softly, "Thanks."
Looking back out the window, I discovered the buildings becoming less sparse, and taller. Soon, we were swallowed by skyscrapers too high to see the tops of, and traffic that moved so slowly, I felt I could walk faster than the cab was driving. It was twenty minutes before we pulled up in front of a little vintage store, above which proudly sat Carol's Quick and Classy Wedding Chapel.
I slipped out of the car and stared wistfully at the clothing store as Sammy paid the driver. Then he took my hand and we went inside.
The store was dark and musty, with spicy incense burning somewhere, stinging my nostrils. The only light came from the large front window, which currently sat in the shade and was nearly dark enough to activate a street light, and a blue lava lamp that sat placidly on the front counter, collecting dust. Tinny Middle-Eastern music was piped in through outdated speakers, and probably were connected somewhere to an eight-track to match. The store's only occupant was a girl around my age with coffee-and-cream colored flesh and tight curls that radiated from her scalp in an exotic chocolate crown. She looked up when we walked in, giving us a bored glance, then returned her attention to the battered Sci-Fi novel with Patrick Stuart and Michael Dorn on the front. Suddenly, I ached for a piece of gum.
"The wedding chapel be upstairs," she said, and though her grammar was less-than-perfect, her speech and enunciation betrayed her as a former debate captain. "The stairs be in the back. Behind the day-glo beaded door."
"Thank you." Samuel's voice trembled slightly, I noticed, but he quickly recovered and led me by the hand in the indicated direction. Racks of beautiful clothes slid by us, unnoticed by my fianci, though I myself lusted after each item that passed within my view, especially considering my present attire. We were nearly to the stairs before I stopped, gazing at a mannequin.
"Sam," I whispered. "I want that." I pointed to a silver rhinestone tiara that rested on the mannequin's silky red tresses. "I don't even get a veil. Let me wear that."
Frowning, he stared at the princess' headpiece thoughtfully, then looked into my pleading eyes. Smiling, he responded, "Okay. Buy it."
I obliged, snatching up the prize and presenting it to the girl, who looked at me with startled brown eyes. "You want that?" she inquired. "The lady who sold it to us got married up at Carol's, and she was filing for divorce within the week. They say it brings bad luck."
"I want it," I affirmed, digging twelve dollars out of my clutch purse.
"You're going to see Carol. I'll give it to you for ten. Two bucks will buy you a phone call to your mama when your marriage breaks up."
I laughed humorlessly, snatching up my new-found treasure. "Not unless the telephone companies've got a brand-new service that lets ya talk ta the dead," I retorted, then winked at her. "Don't worry," I confided in her, my voice a whisper, stealing a glance at Sam across the dimly lit room. "The only thing this marriage's gonna have goin' fer it is commitment. An' that ain't somethin' superstitions're gonna help with." Donning my tiara, I turned to Sam and trotted happily over to him.
Hand in hand, we ascended the stairs. The "chapel" turned out to be a lavender-smelling room with coral-colored walls and white-tiled floor. Pastel flowers were distributed liberally throughout, focused on a white pressboard podium at the front of a short aisle. Folding chairs flanked this aisle, a dozen or so on each side. Idly, I wondered who would gather twenty friends or family members so they could elope.
Carol materialized, as if in a puff of smoke, as we surveyed our surroundings. Smartly dressed, she appeared to be in her late forties to early fifties, with more worry than laugh lines. "Come in!," she greeted with a sugary smile. "My, aren't you the cutest couple!"
"We... We'd lahke ta get married," Sam said almost shyly, his accent thick as molasses.
"That's what I do, cowboy. What kind of wedding do you want?"
"Just traditional vows and stuff, s'all," I responded.
"Wonderful. Can I get your names?"
"Samuel Guthrie and Jubilation Lee. That's G-U-T-H-R-I-E."
Carol filled out some blanks on the clipboard she held, also mysteriously pulled from nowhere while my attention was diverted. "Fabulous. Shall we get started, then?"
So we exchanged vows, rings, and a tiny kiss; completed the papers, and quickly fled the eerily cheerful "chapel". We had gotten what we had come for.
* * * * *
Sometimes I'm surprised at how twisted our perceptions of life can be at times. How we think we can gain happiness if we could just have this object, or if only we could acquire this certain skill. How we think that importance can be gained at the drop of a hat, and on the day that we gain such a prize, that will be the most treasured day of our lives.
Important days are a misconception, too. We all think that the happiest day of our lives will be when we marry, or have our first child. Days and events which demand preparation and scheduling, just waiting to be jumped upon and savored. When, in reality, the most remembered days of our lives are the ones that couldn't possibly be foretold or planned.
The most important day of my life, I would have to say, was the day that my parents died. The news of their brutal murder shocked my world into something I never knew existed, and I shifted from the life of a rich petty-thief to a penniless orphan, my only home a dark, dank cell among criminals. I'd never dreamed of that day coming, nor could I have possibly planned for it if I had.
I had always thought that my wedding day would at least rank as an important day, if it wasn't the *most* important day of my life. But truthfully, it was just like any other day. I recited meaningless words, made a meaningless vow, and was wed on a day that turned out to be as equally as meaningless.
It was a day one week later that turned my world upside-down. A day which reminds me of another important, yet unplanned-for day.
It was late November in my sixteenth year. After three years of Miss Frost ranting about my "latent telepathic ability" and how Logan "pampered" me and I needed to "stretch myself," my hidden power had finally presented itself. I remember it was the morning after the first snowfall. I awoke freezing to death, as I do every year on this memorable day, both fascinated and frightened by the white powder that engulfed Snow Valley. We never had snow when I was growing up in SoCal, and even though I'd beheld its splendor for three years by then, it still possessed my interest and terror.
Wrapped in my downy comforter, I came into the kitchen that morning, shivering, to discover Frosty and Bansh at the table, leisurely enjoying cups of coffee. Sean looked drowsily up at me when I entered, and I swear I heard him tell Emma, "See? I'm nae the only one who thinks it's cold around here. Let's turn up the heat."
"Let's,' I muttered, taking a seat.
Both my superiors blinked at me in surprise, suddenly wide awake. "Let's what?" ventured Emma.
With an incredulous expression, I replied slowly, "Turn up the heat. I've been in morgues warmer than this."
"How did ye know we were talkin' aboot turnin' up the heat, lass?"
To this, I was utterly astonished. What kind of an idiot did they take me for, anyway? "I heard you."
A huge grin crept onto Frosty's lips, and my heart sank to know I had somehow made her that happy. "Latent telepathic ability!" She exclaimed exuberantly the phrase she'd spat at me thousands of times before. "I told you, didn't I?"
"Well," Sean told me later, "at least now she wonna bother ye aboot it."
And that turned out to be about the only advantage. My power isn't strong enough to probe minds or even really communicate, only to remind myself occasionally--when I "overhear" snippets of conversation between a telepath and someone, or catch wisps of wistful lusts at the mall, or when I was informed by Jean that I was easier to track down with some telepathic energies to lock onto--that I was strange, even among mutants. Not powerful enough to be considered a psi, I wasn't allowed into that elite club; yet too much of one to be a non-psi, also. Non-telepaths seemed uneasy around me at times, while true telepaths came off... condescending. My power has been nothing but heartache. And the morning a week after I was wed to Samuel Guthrie was no exception.
The sun was shining as I drifted from my slumber early that morning, wrapped in the warm entanglement of Sammy's strong arms. Whether I was in love with him or not, I had to admit that it feels nice to wake up in a comforting embrace for once. I only wished it was Logan's face that I gazed up into, touched with gold in the early morning light as he silently slept.
Sliding out of bed, I gathered up some clothes and made my way to the showers.
I was just washing the shampoo from my hair when it hit me; I don't really know how to describe it. It was like when you're in a dark room and suddenly someone shines a white-bright light in your eyes, then shuts it off. Now you're sitting not amidst comfortable, familiar darkness, but instead you have spots roaming confusingly before your vision, remnants of the light. That's what happened on the psychic level. A flash of... something. I could only assume it was the last of Charles' consciousness leaving him and dispersing across the astral planes. When a psi dies, it is felt. But none so powerful as Professor Xavier. Even Jean felt like a mere ripple to Chuck's tsunami on my battered mind.
Crying out in surprise and something like indignation at the invasion, I fell to my knees, my head spinning with distorted projections of Chuck's memories and dreams, each in surround sound, the din drowning out the hypnotic beating of the shower against the porcelain of the tub. Soap streamed into my eyes, its mild sting the only thing keeping me grounded as I viewed life and history through the eyes of the man whose purpose I had been fighting for over the past five years. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.
Charles Francis Xavier was dead.